The Falls Church  Historical Marker

The Costly Faithfulness of The Falls Church

Instead of a soaring room flooded with natural light, they took their places in a cramped, fluorescent-lit auditorium. Instead of the sounds of a pipe organ, they heard the drone of a temperamental air conditioner. Instead of pews fitted with fabric kneelers, congregants filed into rows of theater-style folding seats. But in their first Sunday worship away from their 280-year-old historic property, the members of The Falls Church Anglican congregation in Falls Church, Virginia were too busy laughing and greeting one another to notice the new inconveniences.

“The people of the church have been full of joy and thankfulness,” says Laura Smethurst, “buoyed by the conviction that to stand up for the Son of God is of ultimate importance.” It was the Anglican congregation’s firm stance on the authority of God’s word and the moral wrong of homosexuality that cost the 4,000-member church nearly everything they owned. Six years ago, after the mainline Episcopal Church ordained an openly practicing homosexual bishop, 90 percent of The Falls Church congregation voted to break with the denomination and align with the conservative branch of the worldwide Anglican church.

As a result of the decision, the Episcopal diocese brought the Anglican congregation to court to dispute ownership of the historic Falls Church building. The congregation argued that the property deed is in the name of the church and a Circuit Court judge initially agreed. But the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church appealed that ruling and the Virginia Supreme Court said the particular statute used in their defense did not apply. The case was remanded back to the Circuit Court to be decided under neutral principles of contract and property law. This time the same Circuit Court judge ruled against them, ordering the Anglican congregation to turn their $26 million historic church building and all the church’s other property over to the Episcopalian diocese.

From the Bank Account to the Bibles

The lawsuit has taken nearly everything from the church: staff offices, prayer books, sound equipment, the rectory that has housed the pastor and his wife for 33 years, and $2.8 million that was in the church accounts at the time of the split. Church staff even had to count and leave every single Bible the church had owned. A locksmith changed the locks behind them.

For the next several months the Anglican congregation is bouncing between school auditoriums and Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church. Several churches of other denominations have stepped forward to offer space for ministry activities, though church leaders are working from their homes—or Starbucks—while the church’s finances are pending. After spending millions of dollars in legal expenses, the congregation does not have enough money to purchase a new building.

The Falls Church is one of hundreds of congregations across the country that have given up their buildings rather than stay affiliated with a branch of their church they believe denies the final authority of Scripture. But after the Episcopal Church regained control of some church buildings, they found the declining denomination couldn’t afford to keep them. The Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York offered to purchase their building when they split from the Episcopal denomination, but the diocese refused. Instead, the building was turned into a mosque.

Of the 38 Anglican provinces across the world, 22 have declared “broken” or “impaired” fellowship with the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican church. The conservative provinces recognize the Anglican Church in North America as the true Anglican church in the United States. The Falls Church chose to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the conservative missionary branch of the Anglican church of Nigeria, which is now a part of the Anglican Church in North America.

Too Small a Thing to Remain

At Sunday’s service, hymns such as “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” took on a renewed meaning as church members sang, “Thou hast brought me to this place, and I know Thy hand will lead me safely home by Thy good grace.”

“One blessing from this is the opportunity to become more like Jesus Christ during all of this,” noted Smethurst. “Right now, we don’t know the future more than a few months down the road, but we do know that God will take care of us and greatly desires us to grow in holiness and in Christ-like character through all of it.”

“It was too small of a thing for us to remain at the Falls Church,” said rector Rev. John Yates at Sunday’s service. Yates reminded the church that their mission was “go out into all the world and preach the Gospel.” He preached from Romans 8, which affirms, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Having worshipped alongside the members of The Falls Church last Sunday, I have no doubt that the body will continue to flourish and grow strong despite the hardships. The people of The Falls Church recognize that a church is not simply a building; it is the bride of Christ, the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” that the congregation affirms week after week in the Nicene Creed. This truth allows me, raised a non-denominational Christian, to feel at home worshipping through the liturgy, united with people who are my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Forgiveness and the Future

The tragedy of the situation at The Falls Church is not that the congregation will die, but that yet another a historic symbol of American Christianity has fallen into the hands of those who teach doctrines contrary to Scripture. The church where George Washington worshipped now belongs to a denomination that accepts and condones practices that would have scandalized the Founding Father—and, more importantly, Our Heavenly Father.

An even greater tragedy, though, is the deep wounds that the division in the Anglican church has left in the hearts of people on both sides of the dispute. Forgiveness and healing will be difficult, but the leaders of the Falls Church recognize that both can only come from God’s help. They’re seeking supernatural strength to look forward, rather than to their past.

“Do I have regrets?” Yates asked in an editorial recently published in the Washington Post. “Yes, a few. I regret that so much ink has been spilled over a few social issues (important as they are) instead of on the deeper theological issue of how we understand and obey the will of God. And I wish we could have communicated more successfully that none of us is without sin. We all need the Savior.”

  • RonFCCC

    What an inspiring story. This congregation’s commitment to following Christ, even at the cost of all the material possessions of the church is very encouraging. As Paul did, they have counted “all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.”

  • Eric

    I am glad they stood firm on the word of God against accepting sin. I wish they had also stood firm on the word of God about going to court against a brother. Now THAT would have been a testimony to their commitment to scripture.

    • Anonymous

      @ Eric. Good grief.

    • SirBrass

      The Episcopal Church is a synagogue of satan, man. NOT Brothers/Sisters in Christ.

    • ccinnova

      Eric, the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia filed the lawsuit after the Falls Church and ten other like-minded congregations voted to disaffiliate from TEC and affiliate with CANA. John Yates and the leadership of the other like-minded congregations had been in negotiations with then-Bishop of Virginia Peter Lee, but the negotiations were halted in the fall of 2006 on orders from newly-elected Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

  • Tommie

    @Eric. I hear you but, do you really think them brothers?

  • Anil Jacob

    I happened to have visited this congregation in 2006. Thank God for their decisiveness, moral courage and willingness to stand for the Bible at a time in the US where so much militates against it. Christ over culture, indeed!

  • Glenn

    Eric….. the article reads “the Episcopal diocese brought the Anglican congregation to court to dispute ownership of the historic Falls Church building.” So the congregation was sued. You can make a decision not to sue someone, but you cannot prevent the sheriff from coming and serving you with court papers when someone sues you. The Bible also says judge not that you be not judged.

    • Eric

      Good point. In that case, it makes perfect sense that it went to court.

      • Kent

        Yes, but doesn’t Paul say “why not rather be defrauded”. They could have simply turned the property over to the denomination.” You can’t stop someone from suing you, but you don’t have to fight it out in court either.

        • Melody

          It’s a little harder to decide those things as a group. For yourself, as a person do that. Consider it a lesson that you can learn from. I’m sure as they look back there is hind sight but it is too easy to sit and judge people that went through a huge trial of persecution. So when someone sues you, hand it all over. In the mean time have some grace and prayers for both sides.

        • Ella

          Great point. I think it’s one of the reasons why Paul had the city officials escort him personally out of prison in Acts 16:37. The way they had treated him before violated Paul’s legal rights as Roman citizen. Yet by demanding to openly be escorted in broad daylight he first and foremostly helped the newly founded church. If the magistrates got away with mistreating and then dispatching Paul in a cloak-and-dagger operation, they might tend to treat the church in the same way without fearing concequences. In the same way, there are times where God leads individuals through a process of meekness. However, as a congregation in light of the morally declining society, it is a hard lesson and important step to openly face the charges. That way the E. church can’t just hustle the A. denomination out of their ancient, history-laden and valuable building without having the A. denom. facing the trial with the most honorable boldness to claim what has been theirs for certuries. I greatly admire these brethren. I just think it a weird twist to the story that one of these churches has been turned into a mosque. How bizarre…

  • Tony

    This is crazy because I live 10 minutes from Falls Church. I was actually talking to a lady at church this past Sunday that told me about this situation. Apparently, she and her husband attended there for years and left because of this recent debacle. I guess her husband is staying there to help out for a bit, and then they will fully move to my current church. It’s weird though to see a local article on the TGC.

  • Christian

    This is my home church. I came to faith while in high school through the efforts of its youth ministry, I served the youth ministry of my summers while in college, and I would try to return for as many Sunday’s as I could while in college. It both breaks my heart and fills it with joy to see how this whole ordeal has played out. I am very interested to see what happens to the property, though. I hope to see more follow up articles.

    • Bettina

      The article states “The Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York offered to purchase their building when they split from the Episcopal denomination, but the diocese refused. Instead, the building was turned into a mosque.”
      What else is there to say? The decision was made and the baby was split…

      • Jim Swindle

        I think Christian was asking about the historic Falls Church building in Virginia, not about the building in Binghampton, NY.

        • Christian

          Exactly. the historic property is a national landmark due to its age. It’s also a highly valued peace of property. Several of our nations founding fathers were members of the church. That being said, I don’t think the Episcopal Church will be as willing to part with the property as they were with the property in New York. However, based on everything that has happened in my hometown, I don’t think they are going to have the congregation or money to maintain the property. So I’m just interested to see what happens to the property in general.

  • Bradley Hopkins

    It doesn’t say anywhere that doing the right thing will be easy, in fact it says we will be hated and persecuted for it! Thankfully this congregation has taken the difficult but righteous stand!

  • DLE

    How strange that the church split in an effort to maintain doctrinal purity, yet it did not feel that honoring the doctrinal purity of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17 mattered all that much. Our Lord said that our unity would be primary evidence of the veracity of the Gospel, and yet here we have further division.

    Is it possible that the division is just as wrong (or even more so) than the sinful stance on homosexuality? What if we believed that disunity was the worst of all sins? How would the Church be different? (And possibly far more healthy?)

    Just something to consider…

    • Charlie

      DLE, It is a shame that the break had to come, but even though the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia has been called a “brother in Christ” by the Rector of Truro (one of The Falls Church’s sister parishes in the area, also withdrawn from ECUSA), it was needed. If you had a cancerous tumor in your leg – let’s say a cancer in the bones of your lower leg – that could not be removed surgically, would you prize the unity of your body above life? Vast numbers of the members of the Episcopal Church have given up faith in Jesus Christ as anything other than a teacher, and demand that everyone else in the Episcopal Church also refuse to believe or teach that he is God the Son Incarnate who died and was raised for our sins. Even some who will allow that truth have capsized on the question of sexual morality. It is not healthy for orthodox congregations to stay within the Episcopal Church.

    • Jesse Johnson

      DLE: Wow. did you read the part about the Episcopal Church rather having a building turned into a mosque than a church that doesn’t allow homosexual pastors? It is not Falls Church that needs to read John 17.

    • Michael

      Church splits over pastor who is a child molester = “Yes,that’s biblical!”

      Church splits over pastor who is a homosexual = “That’s bad. They should read Jo. 17. Splitting is worse than homosexual sin!”

      Selective ecumenism?

    • jun


      The high priestly prayer of Jesus regarding Christian unity is based on truth – God’s truth; biblical truth – not at the expense of truth. It is based on the common objective of the cause of the gospel. Righteousness is always more important than oneness.

      • TCS

        We must always remember that Satan can wear all sorts of disguises, even of those in authority over us.
        Jesus told His followers, in Mathew 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
        Can we do anything else in dealing with Satan amongst us?
        This situation has little to do with unity, and all to do with The Truth of Scripture.

    • Jim

      DLE: Well no, Scripture is clear that “unity” does not come at the cost of being disobedient to God or being joined to those who are being disobedient to God. See, e.g., Ephesians 5; I Corinthians 5; II Corinthians 6.

      When the Current Unpleasantness began, an Episcopal bishop, trying to dismiss the seriousness of what was going on, famously said that “schism is worse than heresy.” Well, of course that is not true, nor is it a valid defense of what the Episcopal Church is doing.

      Jesus expects us to be faithful to Him, walk in His steps and follow His commandments. John 14:15 We cannot have fellowship with those who refuse to do so.

    • SirBrass

      ‎”The way to preserve the peace of the church is to preserve its purity.” (Matthew Henry)

      Unity is achieved through believing the same gospel. Surface unity is simply allowing a jezebel to fester, and you ought to know what Christ said to the one church that allowed THAT.

    • DLE

      Unity is hard work. Disunity is easy. It’s why so many people default to disunity almost immediately.

      Most Christians in America, no mater how faithful they claim to be, really don’t want to be bothered with issues of community outside of their Sunday meeting. Maintaining unity becomes a bother. So they write it off and attach a million “biblical” reasons for taking the easy way out.

      It’s time to stop lying to ourselves about how committed we are to community and unity. We simply aren’t. We’re committed to our own personal perspective, and it doesn’t go much further than that.

    • Paul

      Your statement is misinformed. I share your concern for unity, but the TEC showed little such concern when it ordained a practicing homosexual as a bishop against the wishes of the entire Anglican communion (most of whom do not affirm homosexual activity as normative Christian behavior). In so doing, the TEC disregarded the hard work of unity that involves making theological decisions on such divisive issues as part of the entire “catholic and apostolic” Church. CANA and ACNA should not be charged with caring little for “unity” and copping out for “biblical” reasons while ignoring the perspectival nature of their interpretations simply because they re-aligned with the majority of the Anglican communion. To stay in the TEC would have been to remain with a body openly rebelling against the entire communion (whether its leaders in England cared enough to do anything about it or not). It would have also been to remain in a denomination as dogmatically opposed in practice to fruitful theological discussion as any conservative fundamentalist is (and, apparently, as you think ACNA is).

  • Chris


    Unity is important, but not more important than fidelity to God and His truth. It may be possible that division in some instances is just as wrong as a sinful stance on homosexuality. However, division is not always sin, and in this case it is the right thing to do. Disunity is not the worst of all sins. If large numbers of people in the church ignored the sins of large numbers of other people in the church, the church would definitely not be far more healthy.

  • Kirk Fatool

    This story is heartening to me. Currently an Episcopal pastor in my area is opposing a building project because our church disagrees with homosexual marriage and women pastors.

  • Brent Elkins

    Interesting. Our church “Lighthouse Community Church” in Allendale, Michigan is going through something similar. We have left the Reformed Church in America. They are taking our property, but we’ve decided that taking it to court is wrong, so we are leaving the building. Obeying God is never the wrong choice.

    • Susan

      Brent, just curious, why is your church splitting? Incidentally, I have a cousin named Brent who grew up in Allendale. I don’t know if the family attended that church but most of the MI family is Reformed.

      • Brent Elkins

        We left for some of the same reasons that this church has left.

        • Susan

          We left our church recently for other reasons–namely the compromise of the gospel. In the past few months around 100 people have left, or are close to leaving. The church is—or WAS, Brethren.

  • Robert

    ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

    “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

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  • Laura Gibson

    To a part of the dear body of Christ I used to worship with,

    May God bless and keep you TFC. I am both saddened and proud as I read of this. May your faithfulness to Christ and his Words bring more into the Kingdom.

    Because of Christ,

  • Peter

    For you had pity on those who were in prison, and had joy in the loss of your property, in the knowledge that you still had a better property and one which you would keep for ever. Heb 10:34, Basic
    English Translation.

  • Chris

    Of course its horrible for any congregation (regardless of size) to be removed from their home, but the leadership should have known that it would be the case. Im not sure their theological “victory” was worth the losses. Why split? Why not remain and be a testimony? Where is our missionary zeal anymore- especially in the domestic field? If the Episcopal Church is so apostate (which I dont think it is- apart from a loud and vocal few) then why not remain (however uncomfortable it may be) and minister? As alluded to in earlier posts, church schism IS a very serious issue and IS directly addressed in the Bible. Many millions were spent in what was an inevitable losing battle. It saddens and angers me to think of all the things that WEREN’T funded because of the court battles. The Gospel was compromised for Theology.

    • Michael

      “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord.

    • Melody

      Paul said to remove the unrepentant sinner from the congregation. Just how are you supposed to do that when they deny it is even a sin?
      Jesus and Paul both said to beware of yeast.

      Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 1 Corinthians 5:6

      “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”Matthew 16:6

      • Brent Elkins


  • Jack Brooks

    The Episcopal church isn’t a Christian church, and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s a sin to remain yoked to them. In fact, they should have left when the EC abandoned the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.

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  • Bruce

    I am so sorry that again the Anglican people have been led astray by the Bishops, the sheep have no shepherds and no place to lay there heads, I think it is incombant upon all the various Christian communities in America, from Baptist to Televangelists to sow seeds of faith into the good soil of our friends to help them get started again, we are one body with one Saviour, LET’S DO THIS PEOPLE, I’m sending an offering from England. Sunday is Pentecost the birthday of the church lets give our brothers and sisters a birthday present.

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  • Mary Spaulding

    I commend the church for standing against the ordination of people openly sinning.
    But doesn’t anyone wonder why the church had 2.8 million dollars in the bank. Why wasn’t that money being used for missionaries, to help the poor, or the like. What was the point in having that much money in reserve. No wonder atheists suspect the church of dishonesty.

    • nancy

      Mary – before you make remarks like that you need to do a little research about The Falls Church. The money was put aside knowing that we might not win this battle. TFC has missionaries all over the world, we have the largest youth ministry on the east coast, until last week we housed an ESL program that served over 200 folks a week, we dispensed food, toiletries, and services that are beyond counting! We are also a huge, blessed, and generous congregation.

      Please come visit The Falls Church – Anglican to see what we are really all about.

  • Susan

    We are called to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, not to allow ourselves to be lead by them.

  • Kim Vander Helm

    Praising God for their faithfulness!! He will bless them and he will bless Lighthouse Community Church for doing the same. Standing on the word of God. Losing a building but growing in grace and truth!

  • http://Facebook Vickie

    Ms. Constant did a great job of capturing the challenges that Falls Church has faced and the way that the congregation has entrusted themselves to the Lord in doing what is right. Thank you, Alicia.

  • http://facebook wilma badilla

    If you know the Truth,
    The Truth shall set you free from the falls teachers, who pretend to be in Christ.

  • F. Phillips

    Hard to make a case for separation and not against going to court.
    Because no matter the reasoning given from both sides, to the world, it just rings false. It looks greedy. It communicates disunity among Christians and gives the world, who are watching, more fodder to point at than the love Christ implored us to display.

    • Melody

      You are looking at it from the wrong direction.

  • Bess Bessert

    We know the devil is in action all of the time. The thing that has been brought to our attention is that we must make certain the things get turned around in November and that we can once again a “Christian” nation. That means constant prayer.

  • Christina

    Unity is evident where you are not looking. There is unity and hope within the larger body of Christ. You see, other denominations are offering their spaces. Now that’s the Spirit of Christ.

    • Grace

      Amen to that.

  • Remembering

    I remember my first or second sunday at TFC was when they announced their decision. They were unsure of what the ramifications would be, yet there was a deep sense of hope and purpose in the midst of the obstacles they faced.

    As a Christian just graduating from college and moving to the area, it was heartening to see an influential and yes, wealthy church make such a commitment that in the end cost them dearly. Those who are not familiar with the area do not know how valuable the property is — as someone commented, they had $2.8m on hand in cash — that honestly would merely cover the costs of property taxes alone. It was a historic landmark as well that was visited by many to see famous graves of DC residents.

    Yet if a church like TFC can make such a commitment, and by God’s grace overcome and build a new building, then I believe there is hope for the American church to survive and thrive amidst the theological controversies we face. These challenges are no greater than those who dealt with similar issues in the past, from the Gnostic controversies of the early church to liberalism of the 19th century and now the debates over sexuality. My message to the believers of TFC is to remember that they have nothing to fear — as Jesus said, “take heart, for I have overcome the world.” We shall overcome.

  • don bryant

    Surely this is a sad moment. But my consternation is balanced by my awareness that the Episcopal Church has for many decades been unfaithful to the supremacy of Scripture. It’s hard to feel too much grief for a church that took all this time to get it. They played with fire for too long. Were they not going to get burned? They supported a denomination for decades that showed every sign of compromise and naturalism. There was always plenty of warning.

  • Grace

    Hope for the future: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:19

  • Todd Van Voorst

    Praise God for the fighting of the good fight. It is no small thing to choose God’s will over comfort and security. Itching ears will continue to find their way into leadership among denominations and worshippers will have to choose Jesus and the suffering that comes along with intimacy with Him. Praise God for the testimony of those the world was not worthy, those devoted to Jesus and persecuted by the word (even when it invades the church).

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  • Church Chair Guy

    I read this story a while back in one of the DC papers. I appreciate TGC posting this article with additional details and different viewpoint. We have helped churches in similar circumstances and if ever needed, would love to do so here as well.

  • Lynn Robinson

    Pardon me, but to follow Jesus Christ is to be accepting of everyone. I have never heard or read where he spoke, treated, cured, or otherwise came into contact with only the currently acceptable people. Did he not go to the people least accepted by society? I cannot feel the least bit sorry for the people who followed the leader and left the Episcopal Church. I do, however, question their motives. Either you follow Christ and love and accept your neighbor, or you don’t.

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